Five Dollar Cover

Offensive. Endlessly offensive. There has been a small amount of recent hype regarding a new MTV project called $5 Cover, a Real World-esque series based on the lives of a handful of Memphis musicians.

Reading the articles, one would be under the impression that $5 would be vastly different than the normal pabulum that passes for mainstream music. That is simply not the case, though when has public relations ever had a straightforward relationship with the truth.

Directer Craig Brewer, the Memphis-born filmmaker behind MTV’s Hustle & Flow, has put together a fictional show that is supposed to view like a documentary and features actual Memphis musicians in the acting roles. Really, this series comes off as a lame attempt by MTV to retain any measure of the musical credibility it began to shed fifteen years ago.

Brewer, who is touted as an “indie-filmmaker” (though how MTV financial backing constitutes “indie” is beyond me) blurs the line between documentary and drama through mixing the substance and docu-narrative of early seasons of The Real World with the aesthetic of films like Richard Linklater’s Slacker. As someone who came of age during the grunge heyday of the early-mid ’90s, I feel like $5 Cover is aimed directly at viewers like myself who long ago disposed of MTV.

Call me out on being a pretentious, judgmental old Gen X-er, but either Brewer & Co. have a half-baked conception of what constitutes “real” or I live further out in left field than I previously imagined.

This is all too polished and little resembles the lives of any artists I know. As a musician who is acutely aware of the struggles to work and keep a tight practice schedule, I find this show offensive. For non-artists, I’m sure there is a belief that we all live some manner of Dionysian lifestyle and that we’re endlessly entertaining personalities (hence the never ending coverage of the private lives of famous people), but in truth we’re kinda boring. All of us.

One thing about musicians is that the majority of us are ugly, dysfunctional and argumentative. $5 Cover certainly nails the “argumentative” side of us, but why the need to film bassist Amy LaVere at home in her skivvies? Is that really the only way to “sell” an artist these days? “Look, she’s got a great bum! No, her music isn’t that interesting, but look at that bum! Dear Jesus we’ll sell millions!”

This is “new”? Don’t flatter yourself. How about a series that shows the real process of creation, perhaps one starring someone like me and my drummer nitpicking the placement of a change in downbeat or whether a difference in a half tone on the bass sucks the energy out of the accompanying guitar phrase? Yeah, I told you we’re kinda boring. But that’s what we do.

While $5 Cover is touted as a new medium in art all it actually does is slightly twist previous modes of music video. Instead of straight marketing live performances or traditional-format music videos, this show concocts a fictional plot and then sticks non-actors into the key roles. Therefore, a rationale is contrived to stage performances.

If this was an actual documentary series that followed artists around it would be far more plausible and interesting. This show feels forced and contrived, the artists only there in the drama so that the most tenuous links to authenticity (the meaning of which is endlessly debatable, I know) can be preserved. To be succinct, it’s a marketing gimmick.

It’s difficult for me to find positives in the series, but I will give credit to Brewer for at least staying local with the project. All the crew members and extras are actual locals and the show was shot entirely on location in Memphis. And the intention to give indie musicians an outlet for exposure is admirable, but everyone knows the old canard about good intentions. That holds true here.

Locations aside, $5 Cover is an affront to the idea of reality; if nobody is gonna be a hardass about this, then I’ll gladly step in. Check it out for yourself. New sevenish minute episodes air on Fridays at MTV.com.

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